If A Tree Falls In Baron’s South, Does It Make A Sound?

It’s tough to take down trees here on public land without an uproar.

Westporters howled 3 years ago, when 15 tulip poplars and Norway maples lining the Longshore entrance road were slated for removal. There was a similar brouhaha when a number of Main Street trees were sacrificed for light poles.

But very quietly earlier this month, several dozen trees — not far from the center of downtown — were cut down. We’ve heard hardly a peep.

The key is that those latest trees were on the Baron’s South property. That’s the 22-acre site between Compo Road South and Imperial Avenue. We — well, the town — bought it in 1999. But we’ve never decided exactly how to use the land.

It’s magnificent: hilly, wild and filled with wildlife. It’s been minimally maintained, which suits some people fine. Others think it needs a bit more care.

Deep in the Baron's South property. This image was taken from Judy James' video.

Deep in the Baron’s South property. This image was taken from Judy James’ video.

Most Westporters have no idea it even exists. So the recent Parks & Recreation Department project — to clear overgrown brush, vines, tree branches and other debris, and (oh yeah) chop down a number of trees — hardly registered.

Of course, a few folks noticed.

Cut trees are hauled away from Baron's South.

Cut trees are hauled away from Baron’s South.

One “06880” reader emailed to say that when a friend “came upon such woodland carnage, he became so sick to his stomach he had to leave.” Both were appalled that such “clear-cutting” took place without any notice.

Others hailed the project.

Scott Smith wrote:

The property has fascinated me since moving to this part of town 20 years ago. I’ve hiked, biked and explored the place even before the town bought it.

These photos hardly capture the transformation of the overgrown and long neglected grounds, or the number of trees cleared from the landscape.

The new view at Baron's South, looking west. (Photo/Scott Smith)

The new view at Baron’s South, looking west…

The tree clearing has opened up views of the Baron’s old manor house from nearly every part of the park. I never realized the views it commanded from its hilltop setting. The new vistas from the high ground also reveal glimpses of downtown and the steeples of Assumption Church across the river, and Saugatuck Church on the other side of the Post Road.

The loss of so many (but certainly not all) shows how rugged and steep the site is; there are more than a few slopes and ravines that would make for double-diamond sled runs if the town would ever allow it, which they won’t.

... looking east ...

… looking east …

On the flat land closer to Imperial and near the Senior Center is a small nursery of trees and shrubs packed in deep beds of tree mulch. I suspect tree warden Bruce Lindsay has a well thought-out re-landscaping plan.

Can’t wait to see how this most hidden of the town-owned jewels shapes up this spring. It’s definitely going to be a huge change.

It already is. Whether that change is positive or negative is up for debate.

By the small group of people who even know it happened.

... and looking north. (Photos/Scott Smith)

… and looking north. (Photos/Scott Smith)


13 responses to “If A Tree Falls In Baron’s South, Does It Make A Sound?

  1. Michael Calise

    Open Space does not sit fallow it provides respite for all who choose to embrace its beauty We should be thankful for a P & Z that had the foresight and courage to see and fight for the preservation of this land for all Westporters including generations to come. The self-serving can condemn them but history will applaud the P & Z members who led the fight and prevailed.

  2. Heather Wilson

    Thank you I love this property. I walked it once not long after it was abandoned, who knows how many years ago that was. The house was amazing to me and the land was tree populated but in a landscaped fashion. I thought it must have been renovated and probably owned by some private business by now. Can’t believe it’s been left to its own all these years. It will probably get more people tramping in and out but guess this is always the way. If you clear it they will come

  3. Trees come and go. I’ve planted 1000’s and cut down 1000″s. Hopefully Bruce Lindsay is a man with a plan. I would trust him.

  4. Dick Lowenstein

    It isn’t — and never was — the forest primeval: http://theotherpages.org/poems/books/longfellow/evangeline00.html

  5. When you cut down a healthy tree you take away life and history. Someone went too far on this bad call. Every Christmas my Father would dig up a Christmas tree and after the holiday replant it. He had such respect for all of naature.

  6. Joyce Barnhart

    One of the biggest threats to wildlife now is loss of habitat, from shrinking ice floes leading to starving polar bears to manicured woods removing trees and brush that shelters birds and mammals.. The work on the Baron’s South seems unnecessary and definitely unfriendly to wildlife, especially creatures that will seek shelter in the coming winter.and find none because somebody wanted to make things neat. .

  7. Bob and Julie Fatherley

    As someone who is deeply involved and committed to the stewardship of
    Trout Brook Valley and Devil’s Den, I support and applaud the selective
    cutting and removal of dead or dying trees as well as the tangle of
    undergrowth to include invasive plants such as Japanese Barberry and
    Mile-A-Minute vines. It is true that ground level clutter provides shelter for
    wildlife such as the White-Footed Mouse which, unfortunately, is a carrier
    of the Woodland Tick.
    Further, my family and I have, for years, maintained a 268 acre USDA
    Tree Farm in Vermont where, with the guidance of a State Forester, have
    done selective cutting of conifers and mixed hardwoods which were turned
    into building lumber at local mills. We used the proceeds to pay Vermont
    taxes on our property; some of the highest real estate taxes in New England.
    While some walkers in Baron’s South woodland may consider the
    culling of vegetation and trees akin to a “rape of the land,” these
    well-intentioned and concerned citizens would do well to realize that
    Bruce Lindsay, Westport’s Tree Warden, licensed Forester with his
    own business as a trained Arborist, is widely regarded as at the top
    of his profession. Bruce has studied and supervised the forestry practice
    at Baron’s South. Also, Jen Fava, the Director of Westport’s Parks and
    Recreation Department, also considered a star in her profession, has
    overseen the conservation and preservation of the Baron’s South
    woodland as well as the development of other parks in our town.
    The enlightened thinning of woodlands is considered sound practice,
    especially when supervised by trained foresters. Consult the Yale School of Forestry. Mother Nature, also manages woodland with occasional forest
    fires, which, while too often tragic to human life, actually promote new growth
    without human intervention.
    A final note: In the numerous hikes I do with my friends in the
    Y’s Men of Weston and Westport, we encounter dangerously leaning
    trees which we call “widow makers.” They have the unfortunate
    inclination to fall at a moment’s notice, either injuring someone or
    blocking the trail. Our trail stewards are faithful about cutting and
    clearing them to make the trails “hiker-friendly.”
    Let us be grateful for Baron’s South woodland. They’re not
    making it any more.

    • This thoughtless amputation creates a bit more than a “hiker friendly” trail.

    • Joyce Barnhart

      Nothing in Dan’s posting indicates that the undergrowth that was cleared was invasives, nor that “widow makers” were the only trees that were removed. Dead trees are important in a woodland, offering shelter to many animals and food for others. I would not be surprised to learn that displaced animals have moved to near-by neighbors’ yards, at least temporarily.

  8. Bonnie Bradley

    I’m not very knowledgable about the science & biology of trees but as a resident of Litchfield County I can say that we have millions here – the landscape is overwhelmingly dominated by forest, some of which is in the same condition as that shown in the pre-cut condition of the Baron’s property; probably never trimmed, cut or touched in the 20th century. The land which borders mine about 100 ft to the rear is in this condition.
    When I bought my house 17 years ago my kitchen window looked out on full, green, majestic hemlocks, pines and a spattering of maples and other deciduous trees, easily as tall as those pictured here. The ground beneath these trees was, & still is, covered with 100+ years of leaves, sticks, vines, weird prickly weeds, etc. – and there is little or no evidence of any new, young tree growth; it seems like a virtual dead zone for new trees.
    Evidently hemlocks & pines in New England are suffering severe assault from climate change, insects, and/or disease, – something called “woolly aegeid” (sp!). The tree needles get covered with white scummy stuff, die and fall off from the bottom of the tree up. The result is a tall, completely bare trunk with dead branches and a cluster of needled branches at the top, just like the pre-cutting photos of the Baron’s property here.
    Conclusion: I love and honor trees as much as anyone. I have the ones on my property cared for, trimmed and cabled by an arborist for their healthy preservation. (I have one sugar maple that has to be over 50 ft high – it’s roots at the base are as big as your thigh.) I hate & mourn to see a big, beautiful tree go down. (Longshore!) I don’t know the answer. But, without nature’s solution of fire, ice, huuicane-force winds, it looks to me like what has been done to the Baron’s property is a positive solution. Stick with a good, smart, compassionate arborist.

  9. I have been a Westport resident my entire life and a licensed arborist for over 30 years. I have dealt with every town tree warden during that time. Bruce Lindsey, the current tree warden, is the best one Westport has ever had in my opinion. He knows how to evaluate trees and their health and as far as I am concerned, has always done the right thing. If Bruce says something needs to be taken down, then it should come down. He has nothing but Westport’s best interest at heart. Westport is lucky to have such a dedicated person doing this job.

    Tom Kashetta
    Licensed Arborist- 62689
    Westport, CT, 06880